Sunday, July 20, 2014

Art Life is Alive

An apology to all those who picked up my business card in the last few weeks and came here to read a lively blog about Jell-O Art. I have been overwhelmed with work and had no time to write anything since just after the Jell-O Show. Doing a little video promo for the Oregon Country Fair Radio station reminded me that I am passionate about Jell-O Art, and do think of it as my true art form. A few years back I wrote an essay about that, kinda, where I proposed that my transition from clothing decorator to something less arduous would be led by my Jell-O, but that turned out to be somewhat of a fantasy, at least so far.

I did spend at least one season of Saturday Market showing and selling Jell-O Art as headpieces and flowers with no purpose other than their beauty and wondrousness, but soon realized they were a distraction from the items I really needed to sell for a living. The Jell-O went back into the project room and was only brought out on special occasions such as the annual April Fools Jell-O Art Show, the coronation of the Slug Queen, and my son's wedding, where we all wore it on our heads. I brought a few of my favorite pieces to wear at the OCF, since everyone enjoys outrageous costumes there and I don't have the energy to put much together while trying so hard to be an actually profiting artisan. The headbands are easy to wear and of course quite spectacular to view.

But the actual making of the art went on the back burner and is mostly relegated to the off-season months of January to March, culminating in the show. I made one big piece, the Blue Heron, and a few smaller ones, but that was it, even the tools were put away.

I'm really into tote bags, and recently bought 250 of some I had sewn by T&J Designs in Springfield. They are made of a high-quality USA made canvas and have webbing handles also domestically sourced. The people at T&J are real, they sit at real sewing machines and sew up the bags, pressing them for a beautiful finish and making an elegant product that looks wonderful on my display. I printed up four of my designs so far and they are selling, even though they cost more than the imported ones on the other side. I'm proud of them and happy to have found one way to make my products more ethical and more satisfying.

I still don't sew my own bags, just screenprint on them, but this is a big improvement, and I plan to gradually replace all of my imported bags. I also branched out and added some new types of hats, though they are still imported and mass-produced, but these fit more people and add some new colors, so my customers are happier. That makes me happier.

Apparently a lot of my operation as a craft artisan is people-pleasing, and I do get off balance sometimes in the heavy work seasons. I made too many logo bags for the OCF, but I learned a lot by putting them on the path. There really are collectors of logo items, who truly love the Fair and what it represents, but they are a discriminating group of people and some of them did not have happy looks when they left my booth. They wanted something special, and my special new design didn't really go all the way to the meaningful level I had envisioned. It was nice, and charming, but not really a winner. I sold about 50 of them nevertheless, but I'll have to try harder next year.

It interests me that it has taken me so long to really understand the translation of love for the event into a craft item. I can't really even articulate it, but I know it when I see it. Tons of people came to tell me how much they loved their OCF bags, but they meant the ones made by a sadly now-deceased artist whose name I don't even know. I met her daughter at the Fair. She had it down, made really fine products and had a beautiful design each year. She would probably say she had a few failures too, but she did it successfully for a long, long time. So it's a bit unrealistic that I should achieve great success the first year, or even in the first five.

It's a funny thing when you have the hot Fair item. I had one once, a shirt that I hadn't even planned to sell, but just brought for fun gifts. You might remember it: had an image of George Bush on it. You still see them around sometimes. It got such a radical appreciation from the moment it came out of the box that I ended up spending most of the Fair running home to print any available shirt to rush back to my booth. It was my second hot Fair item (the first one just sold out its edition of about 30, and really my partner got the credit for it, but I felt the rush) and it was quite life-changing to be filling the desire of hundreds of people.

So I got a little carried away this year with my bags. I was having conversations in my head where people came to get the cool bags I brought and they were sold out, so my people-pleaser kicked in and I just bought and printed more and more bags.I had purple ones and blue ones and blue/purple/blue ones and green ones and peach colored ones and three colors of dyed purple ones and on and on. Too many.
I did hedge my bets and printed most of them without the year, but people want the year on them. I will have to figure out a way to make the ones left over special for next year, maybe a little back print with 2015 on it, not really a lie. I don't know. A year can be a long time. I may be so far into the locally produced bags that I will want to scrap all of the imported ones by then. Maybe I can make a deal with the concessions and commemoratives to sell them. I'll have to think of something.

My biggest thought about it is that I sold about a fourth of what I made. That means I worked four times harder than I needed to, or even to sensibly have enough, I worked twice as hard as I needed to. That's not ideal. I paid for them, so no real loss over time, as they will eventually sell at some price or other, but I could have taken that canoe float day off, if I had had more sensible conversations in my head. Oh, sorry, sold out of that one. I'll have more next year.

Create more desire, have fewer of higher quality, make the interactions more satisfying on both sides. My customers are smart and know what they are looking for. I'll get smarter too. I'll start working on that lovely peach earlier and get it done on time.

And Jell-O Art, my true art form, has not left my palette. I'll be making more. I'm still passionate and dedicated to it, and the Slug Queen's Coronation is coming up quickly. I'm still and always will be the Queen of Jell-O Art. I get to make that what I want it to be. It doesn't depend on money, not even on people-pleasing. It's just art. Deepening and shining into our souls. Yes.